Ethics and life art of Universal Love and Solidarity.
Universal Love is a very strong and deep feeling whereby we free ourselves from our own personal problems and negative emotions and whereby we feel ourselves joyfully allied with all life. As a result, we give ourselves completely for the sake of all life.
The way to such a feeling of universal solidarity has two positions of departure, one ‘ethical’ and another involving ‘life art’. From both starting positions, two similar paths emerge and come together to result in an ecocentric attitude of unconditional love and compassion.
The ethical fundament starts with the notion of ‘intrinsic value’ (value in itself) as opposite to ‘instrumental value’ (use value). A slave, for example, has instrumental value for his master, but he also has intrinsic value as a human being. If something has intrinsic value, it has rights to e.g. integrity, freedom, wellbeing, development, fulfillment and life. The ethical side strives towards justice and respect. It is against all sorts of discrimination. This has to be done along two paths or perspectives, one that looks at the individual beings and the other at holistic units.
The first, individual-level path works towards a general attitude of non-discrimination. From the worst form of discrimination, ‘egocentrism’, we enlarge the circle of all beings that are morally relevant. After some steps along this path, we arrive at ‘anthropocentrism’, the proposition that all and only human beings have dignity. As this is discrimination of non-human beings, we still have to enlarge the circle of beings that deserve respect. This results into ‘biocentrism’, whereby all living (including the unborn) beings are placed central. Biocentrism says that it is fundamentally immoral to underestimate the intrinsic value of any living being.
The second, holistic-level path has its focus on diversity, richness and balance of complex units. As a first step, the narrow-minded world of the ego is broken open by respecting its embeddedness in a culture. But also other cultures and communities are valuable. From the ethical perspective we should guard and develop the beautiful and moral aspects of every culture. However, this striving towards cultural diversity is still anthropocentric and should be extended towards a general striving of biological diversity: the richness of different species, landscapes and ecosystems.
The individual and holistic paths merge together into ecocentrism, which has the largest circle of morally valuable things: humans, animals, plants, cultures, species, ecosystems, natural elements, the whole Earth and the whole universe. This ethical viewpoint is not solely a confirmation of intrinsic values, it is an active, daily practice of unconditional effort, care and servitude towards everything that is vulnerable, threatened or harmed. It involves a resistance against immoral acts by human beings. This eco- or biocentric altruism is the opposite of anthropocentric egoism. It is a protection of the vital life-rights and the dignity of every living being.
Let us now look at the second fundament which involves the art of living. Life art asks questions about how to find a beautiful, joyful and blessed life. We are attached to shallow things, things that are not much under our control (our body, our wealth and possessions,…) and by this we are often frustrated, anxious, jealous, impatient and unhappy. The solution is an inner liberation of all our addictions and negative emotions. To avoid possible feelings of alienation, meaninglessness or emptiness, or to avoid a possible passive existence that might result from a complete inner liberation, we can consciously create an emotion of deep satisfaction and joyful solidarity with all life. Similar with the ethical perspective, this solidarity is a growth process along two analogous pathways.
At the individual level, important feelings are compassion, empathy, unconditional love and friendship with all individuals. From the ego starts a growing circle of deep sympathy with all living beings.
At the holistic level, important feelings are respect and astonishment for cultural and natural beauty.
We have seen that there are two starting positions wherefrom two growth processes emerge that flow together into a moral ecocentric attitude with feelings of joyful solidarity with all life. These two growth processes are what we call Self-realization. The Self is not the greedy, impatient, narrow-minded, self-centred ego. It is that part of our consciousness that is directed towards all life, that considers itself partner with every living being. It is the Self of the biocentric altruist, and it has two pillars: The ecological and the moral Self.
Ecological Self-realization means an unconditional and deep love for all life. It is actively protecting the dignity and life-rights of all life in order that all life can maximally develop and flourish. If life is harmed, also the ecological Self is harmed. Protecting and caring for all life strengthens our own ecological Self.
Moral Self-realization means an unconditional and deep love for every opponent. It is a striving for inner liberation of every person, an attitude of friendship with everyone, even the worst opponent. This means that we stand up for the most important and precious aspect that a human being possesses: the moral Self. There is no enemy. People are never immoral or bad in themselves, only specific deeds can be immoral. If humans do bad things, than they damage their own moral Selves. Rape, humiliation and murder result into moral Self-rape, Self-humiliation and Self-murder. The friendship with the opponent is unconditional, but it is not always the mutual friendship with mutual confidence. It is a recognition of the intrinsic value of everyone, a deep respect and esteem for every person. This does not mean an approval of their immoral actions. It is incompatible with thinking black and white. The dead body can not revive, but as long as a person lives, his moral Self can be reborn. Tolerance, forgiveness and reconciliation are key words in moral Self-realization.
The unification of both kinds of Self-realization results into the ethics of universal solidarity and Love. Furthermore, Self-realization unifies four apparent opposites. First there is the freedom by solidarity: A conscious experience of solidarity might result in an inner freedom with more intense positive and joyful feelings. A second feeling is the joyful suffering in compassion. On the one hand, a growth of the Self results in a deep grief because of all the suffering, destruction and misery in the world. Moreover, the non-mutuality of the friendship with the opponent is felt to be highly tragic. But at the same time, the opposite feelings are present: inner calmness and joy gives strength to bear all the sorrow and tragedy. A third apparent paradox is the feeling of ‘oneness’ with an open respectful attitude for each others differences: feeling ‘one, but not the same’. The oneness gives strength, but the sometimes radical otherness has a tragic side of ignorance that results into a deep humbleness. Finally, there is the removal of the opposites egoism and altruism. This can be seen in our two starting positions: the altruism of the ethical side and the egoism of the life art. The striving for happiness and a blessed life, which is a central theme in the art of life, is in some sense egoistic. But as Self-realization shows, the deepest joy lies in the dedicated and unconditional servitude, care and protection of other life. The egoism (Selfism) of the Self is no longer the impatient, narrow-minded, greedy egoism of the ego, that hurts the others too much by considering them as merely objects for own use. We can protect life because it has intrinsic value or because we feel joyful solidarity with it. Philosophically speaking we can say that the own Self-realization depends on the Self-realization of all the others.
A concise statement, inspired by Gandhi, shows what is at stake with universal Love: “Love does not burn others, it burns itself. That is why I will joyfully suffer, even unto death.”
In view of the severe state of the world, the ecocentric attitude of universal solidarity leads to an active engagement, an active care and resistance against injustice, suffering, suppression, exploitation and destruction. A crucial question is: How can we guarantee justice (eliminate all sorts of discrimination) and at the same time respect the wellbeing and the vital needs of all the people, the future generations, the animals, plants and the entire nature? At this moment, the ecological carrying capacity is surpassed, because e.g. biological species go extinct faster due to human activity. As non-human life has intrinsic value, this decrease in biodiversity is immoral. If we decide to erase poverty by giving everyone the same standards of welfare as the average rich westerner, than the ecological crisis will sharpen. Moreover, we should not be too naive and overoptimistic about the development of the necessary technology that should be ethically wise, physically possible, economically profitable and environmentally friendly. We should not bet too much on the scientific research in order to solve the crisis. Therefore, two thoughts need more attention.
1) Overconsumption: the increased human production and consumption per capita sharpens the crisis, because it increases the throughflow of natural resources.
2) Overpopulation: the increased human population pressure sharpens the crisis. The capacity of the earth to sustain human and non-human life decently, is limited. Therefore, when the number of people is too large, ecological sustainability is difficult to reconcile with global justice. The population can not grow indefinitely, there is not enough food.
These two major problems result in the quest for a new lifestyle, more austere at the material level, but richer at the psychological level. More joy, freedom, dignity, balance, solidarity, care, helpfulness, fairness, honesty, satisfaction, tolerance, respect, openness, beauty and warm relations with other people. In short, an existence simple in means, but rich in ends.
By an increase in Self-realization, an ecologically light lifestyle becomes a delight to live. Less and less shallow and luxury needs are considered important. Inner satisfaction and serenity will grow by striving for voluntary simplicity in two areas. The one is voluntarily striving for a sufficiently low fertility intensity (small family sizes) that results in few children with more and better care. The other area is a conquest over an insatiable addiction to consumption which is accompanied by superficiality, impatience, anxiousness, envy, frustration, uncertainty, fatigue, dissatisfaction, dependence and stress. Few births and low consumption are difficult decisions that should be voluntarily and individual choices, but also profound changes in political, economical, technological and social structures are required.
However, if we engage ourselves in actions for a better world, we are sooner or later confronted with the question about the use of violence. Violence is hurting, killing or damaging life, but also thinking or speaking with contempt or hate, damaging or destroying property, startling, annoying or provoking someone by word or deed, raising the risk on detrimental impact, as well as the ‘passive violence’ by refraining from aid and intervention in emergency situations. Of course, one form of violence (for example assassinating someone) is more severe than the other (for example annoying someone). Violence in itself is always immoral, so non-violence and effectiveness are the ethical ideal we must pursuit. If one does not see any possibility to resist or act non-violently, then it is better to use violence instead of cowardly doing nothing to stop the grave violence of others. Fleeing from ones responsibility to intervene is an act of passive violence. The issue is not only to save and protect life, but also to help to realise the moral Self of someone who does something immoral. Self-realization is striving for a reconciliation between the offender and the victim, and reconciliation is difficult to reconcile with violence. The ideal of non-violence is very difficult to attain. Purely surviving already requires that we hurt or kill other life. That is violent, but suicide is also violent. As long as we approach living beings gratefully and respectfully, as if it were our best friends, we are allowed to kill to satisfy our own vital needs. It becomes more problematic when we can hardly be free of violence in our result-oriented active commitment.
Whatever we choose for our actions, worthy commitment requires that we become deeply aware of four guidelines. We should never underestimate the moral seriousness of each form of violence. We should never underestimate the moral value of every act that helps, liberates, respects or saves any living being. We should admit and not underestimate our weakness that we are not able to fight without violence. And finally, we should never underestimate the bravery of each action of resistance against injustice, of each striving towards release, redemption or healing. The more Self-realization, the deeper we feel the tragedy of these four guidelines. It becomes very difficult to judge the morality of an action. The best we can do is to be guided by our intuition, solidarity and love. The attitude, the intention with which we fight, are primarily important. This implies seriously loving our antagonists, considering them always as best friends, no matter what they do. We should not insult or hate the opponent, nor treat him in thoughts, words or deeds with anger or disdain. Self-realization strives for liberation, redemption, for both victim and offender. It is a release from oppression that finds its ultimate origin in fear, selfishness, ignorance, narrow-mindedness and lack of solidarity and love. That is dignified release and emancipation.
In society we are constantly told that ‘useful’ depends on whether or not we reach our concrete aim. From a perspective of universal Love, useful depends on taking up ones responsibilities. This is a `realistic utopia’, because at each moment, at each place on the way to Self-realization, we can take our responsibility. Consequently, we are doing something meaningful. This is the hope, which is not the same as naive optimism or the conviction that something will expire well. It is the certainty that something is with dignity and significance, irrespective of the end result. Universal Love is radical thinking and feeling, but (possibly) pragmatical acting, open for new experiences and different points of view. It is a passionate but humble search for answers on many new challenging questions, a striving towards equitable and ecological sustainability, a reverence and respect for al life. After all, we are one, but not the same.